By Chela Vázquez
At 3:45 am Saturday, 16 May 2015 the Conference Of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel (COP 12), Rotterdam (COP 7) and Stockholm (COP 7) Conventions officially closed in Geneva, Switzerland following two weeks of intense negotiations and several hours after the Triple COPs, as they are known, were scheduled to end on Friday.
I among almost 1,200 participants, composed of government delegates and observers from 171 countries, followed the negotiations on regulations of hazardous chemicals and waste. Many of us were hopeful that more hazardous chemicals would be placed under the global watch of the conventions, particularly the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions that regulate the toxic chemicals listed in their Annexes, bearing in mind that the primary objective of the conventions is to protect human health and the environment.
However, the conventions operate largely by consensus among the parties, and just one party can prevent the listing of additional substances to the conventions. As it turned out, some countries opposing new listings of toxic substances did not offer a justification in accordance with the objectives of the conventions.
COP 7 Stockholm Convention resorted to majority vote to list pentachlorophenol, an HHP used for wood preservation
At COP 7 of the Stockholm Convention, which targets persistent organic pollutants (POPs) for global elimination, India opposed the addition of the pesticide pentachlorophenol (PCP) to the convention’ list and questioned the recommendation for listing made by the POPs Review Committee (POPRC), the scientific body of the convention. By the end of the second week after talks had been exhausted, COP 7 resorted to a vote, the first time in the convention’s history, and decided to list PCP and its salts and esters to Annex A of the convention with a time-limited exemption for utility poles and crossarms.
PCP is a ubiquitous global contaminant that has been found in breast milk, blood, amniotic fluid, and other human tissues throughout the world, including Indigenous peoples of the Arctic. It is associated with increased risk of certain cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
COP 7 of the Stockholm Convention also agreed to list the industrial chemicals hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD) to Annex A without exemptions, and polychlorinated naphtalenes (PCNs) to Annex A with a time-limited exemption for use as intermediates in the production of polyfluorinated naphtalenes, including octafluoronaphtalene.
COP 7 of the Rotterdam Convention failed to reach an agreement to apply international trade regulations to dangerous pesticides
Of the pesticides proposed for listing at COP 7 only methamidophos was added in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention which regulates trade of hazardous chemicals on the principle of Prior Informed Consent
In addition, parties deliberated on the listing of the formulation fenthion ultra-low volume (ULV) at or above 640 g active ingredient/L as a Severely Hazardous Pesticide Formulation (SHPF), the herbicide paraquat dichloride 276 g/L as SHPF, and the active ingredient trichlorfon.
Sudan opposed the listing of fenthion
Sudan’s government representative said that adding fenthion to the Rotterdam Convention could decrease production of the chemical and increase market prices. Fenthion is used in Sudan to kill migratory birds that eat crops, such as millet and sorghum.
Other Sahel countries in the region having the same problem are opting for gentler solutions. Mr. Moussa Abderaman Abdoulaye, Chad’s delegate to the Rotterdam Convention said: “Fenthion was used in Chad until 2011 to combat birds that eat cereals from farms. However, the human health and environmental costs were enormous. Chad banned it, began raising awareness on the toxicity of fenthion and promoting the use of nets to trap birds that are also edible. The use of the nets do not threaten the bird population, it provides food to rural communities, and a source of protein and income.”
The proposal to add fenthion in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention was initially proposed by the Republic of Chad and later reviewed and recommended for listing by the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) of the Convention.
India, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Paraguay opposed the listing of paraquat dichloride
For the second time, paraquat dichloride 276 g/L was blocked from being listed as a SHPF to the Rotterdam Convention. The countries opposing the listing were India, Guatemala, Indonesia and Paraguay.
Baskut Tuncak, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances said “it is legally and morally unjustifiable for countries to continue to obstruct the listing of asbestos and paraquat under the Rotterdam Convention.”
Two years earlier, at COP 6 in 2013 India and Guatemala, both manufacturers of paraquat formulations, blocked this substance from being added to the convention. Guatemala expressed at COP 6 that listing paraquat would affect its exports in the region because countries could take action and stop imports of this toxic chemical.
Burkina Faso initially proposed that paraquat dichloride as SHPF be added to the Rotterdam Convention because of the harm to human health and the environment reported in the country. The CRC reviewed the proposal and recommended it for listing to the COP.
The active ingredient Trichlorfon was not added to the Rotterdam Convention
The listing of the pesticide trichorfon to the Rotterdam Convention was blocked by India.
Also, the industrial chemical chrysotile asbestos, used to make rooftops in many developing countries, for the 5th time was blocked from being listed to the Rotterdam Convention. Belarus, Cuba, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, and Zimbabwe opposed the listing.
The effectiveness of the Rotterdam Convention is at stake
Parties and observers attending the COPs questioned the effectiveness of the Rotterdam Convention, whose mission has been undermined by seemingly commercial interests.
Malaysia’s Ms. Fatimah Md. Anwar from the Pesticides Control Division of the Dept. of Agriculture said “We question the effectiveness of the convention if considerations of trade, availability of pesticides and market pricing supersedes the importance of information sharing.”
Also, the undue pressure from the industry was reported by Ecuador who asked that the meeting report reflect its declaration that it has been approached by private sector representatives seeking to persuade countries to oppose listing (re paraquat dichloride), which was “unacceptable.”
Hopes for listing additional hazardous chemicals
On the promising side, COP 7 of the Rotterdam Convention decided to establish an inter-sessional working group to review the cases where consensus on the listing of chemicals was not achieved and to come up with a proposal to improve the effectiveness of the convention. COP 8 in 2017 will decide on the options developed by the inter-sessional working group.
Parties requested technical assistance and support to identify alternatives to HHPs. Dr. Meriel Watts from Pesticide Action Network said “This offers an opportunity for countries to implement agroecological approaches and promote sustainable agriculture and rural development.”
Overall the 2015 Triple COPs adopted over 50 decisions and agreed to convene the next round of chemicals and waste COPs, with a high level segment, in 2017.